Word of the Day Kesef Katan: Change You Can Believe In

Want to spend that 200 shekel bill? Expect to be asked for 'small money' instead.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Word of the Day: Kesef katan
Word of the Day: Kesef katanCredit: Haaretz
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

If you’ve ever watched “Wheel of Fortune,” that game show where contestants guess letters until they figure out the phrase, you’ve heard people ask for big money.

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“Come on, big money, big money,” was the catchphrase as the oversized roulette-style wheel turned.

You might think that, just as it seems that every anonymous source Israeli reporters quote miraculously manage to have scored the title of “senior official” (with nary a junior one to be found in the entire government), so too the only kind of money people would ask for is the big kind.

Not in Israel, though.

Here, just try paying with the 200 shekel bill you got from the ATM (that would be about $58) and you’re almost guaranteed to be asked: “Don’t you have kesef katan?” Forget about the big money; what vendors want from you is kesef katan, or “small money.”

This doesn’t mean they want you to empty your pockets of small change and dump your agorot – the coins worth less than one shekel – on the counter. “Small money” can just as easily be a 20 shekel bill, or even a 50 shekel one, as long as it’s less than whatever you offered in the first place, legal tender though it may be.

If you think those store owners do in fact have the cash to give you your change, in most cases you’d be right on the money. But sometimes, it’s not worth expending the time and effort to get people to accept your large bills – which means that in Israel, rushed (or non-confrontational) customers and their small money are soon parted.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

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